Sebastian Vettel achieved his eleventh victory of the season with a dominant lights-to-flag drive in the inaugural Indian Grand Prix.
After setting records in qualifying matching Ayrton Senna and Juan Manuel Fangio’s record in pole positions, the youngest back-to-back champion took his twenty-first career win, setting a new record for most laps led during a season.
The Red Bull driver’s latest triumph was one of his most straightforward in his championship-winning year. As front-row starter and team-mate Mark Webber was attacked by Jenson Button’s McLaren and Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari on the opening lap, allowed Vettel free to pull clear.
The world champion had a margin around four to five seconds for most of the race, as he led every lap and completed a perfect performance with the fastest lap at the Buddh International Circuit.
Button got through to second at Turn 1, as Alonso twitched under braking and ran wide, letting Webber keep third. The Australian then applied some pressure on Button over the opening laps, before the McLaren managed to escape and head off for an ultimately uncontested second.
Webber then lost third place to Alonso in the final pit-stops, when being the first of the frontrunners to change to the hard Pirellis cost him.
Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa’s turbulent season continued with yet another collision between them. The Ferrari had got ahead of the McLaren on the first lap and was a safe distance ahead until an error on lap 24 left Massa vulnerable to attacks from Hamilton.
On the next lap, Hamilton had a run on the Ferrari approaching Turn 5. Massa moved to defend his position but Hamilton was able to get down the inside on his rival. Massa turned in, and contact was as inevitable as it was avoidable.
The race stewards concluded Massa had caused the latest collision between the two and handed him a drive-through penalty.
Massa later retired when he smashed his front suspension on a kerb, just as he had in qualifying, while Hamilton recovered from ninth to seventh after pitting for a new front wing.
Hamilton finished behind the Silver Arrows, which were led by Michael Schumacher, who had moved onto Nico Rosberg’s tail with a fast start then jumped his Mercedes team-mate for fifth with a late final pit-stop.
Toro Rosso looked set to get both cars in the points until Sebastien Buemi stopped with smoke pouring from his car. Jaime Alguersuari went on to take eighth, ahead of Adrian Sutil’s Force India, and Sergio Perez, as the Sauber driver proved the most successful of those who ran ultra-short opening stints on the prime tyre then switched to the soft option for the duration.
Perez narrowly beat Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, who followed the same strategy. Bruno Senna challenged for points in the second Renault but was hampered by KERS issues and finished in P12, followed by Force India’s Paul di Resta and Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus – which showed strong race pace to run as high as P10.
The Buddh International Circuit layout proved tricky for the 24-car field to safely navigate as one on the first lap. First a brush between the two Williams sent Rubens Barrichello into Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber, which then rejoined in the path of Timo Glock’s Virgin. Among several other brushes of wheels around the lap, Jarno Trulli was left with a puncture after his Lotus was punted into a spin by an HRT of Narain Karthikeyan.
After two difficult weeks in motor racing, it was a nice fitting tribute to see the Formula One drivers paying their respect to the late Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli by putting on a good, successful show in India.
Race results from the Indian Grand Prix, 60 laps:
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h30:35.002
2. Button McLaren-Mercedes +8.433
3. Alonso Ferrari +24.301
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault +25.529
5. Schumacher Mercedes +1:05.421
6. Rosberg Mercedes +1:06.851
7. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes +1:24.183
8. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
9. Sutil Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
10. Perez Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
11. Petrov Renault +1 lap
12. Senna Renault +1 lap
13. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
14. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault +2 laps
15. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth +2 laps
16. D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
17. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth +3 laps
18. Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth +3 laps
19. Trulli Lotus-Renault +4 laps
Fastest lap: Vettel, 1:27.457
Massa Ferrari 33 laps
Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 25 laps
Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 13 laps
Glock Virgin-Cosworth 3 laps
Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1 lap
World Championship standings, round 17:
1. Vettel 374
2. Button 240
3. Alonso 227
4. Webber 221
5. Hamilton 202
6. Massa 98
7. Rosberg 75
8. Schumacher 70
9. Petrov 36
10. Heidfeld 34
11. Sutil 30
12. Kobayashi 27
13. Alguersuari 26
14. Di Resta 21
15. Buemi 15
16. Perez 14
17. Barrichello 4
18. Senna 2
19. Maldonado 1
1. Red Bull-Renault 595
2. McLaren-Mercedes 442
3. Ferrari 325
4. Mercedes 145
5. Renault 72
6. Force India-Mercedes 51
7. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 41
8. Sauber-Ferrari 41
9. Williams-Cosworth 5
Next race: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina. November 11-13.